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Using Project Management to Improve Your Practice

Legal Project Management, Part 1: Getting Started

By Sam Glover

Project management is a discipline that, like lawyering, takes years to learn and longer to master. So my goal with this series of posts about legal project management is not to try to tell you everything you need to know. Instead, it’s to help you get your head around the core concepts involved in treating case management as project management and take the first steps toward using legal project management to improve your practice.

Legal Project Management: The Big Picture

There are several things involved in project/matter management:

  1. Managing all the firm’s projects/matters.
  2. Managing each project/matter.
  3. Managing your tasks within each project/matter.

(I’m not going to continue to write out project/matter, but I wanted to start by driving home the point that client matters are projects.)

I could go into a long explanation of all the different project management methodologies here, but you can just as easily go read about modern practice management components like lean, agile, scrum and kanban on Wikipedia. And you should definitely do that. But for now, let’s just dive in and start with step No. 1: Make a list of all your firm’s current projects.

Managing All Your Firm’s Projects

Managing all the firm’s current projects — the big-picture view — is as much about thinking about your firm’s systems and procedures and incorporating learning over time as it is about keeping track of the progress of the projects. How do you build a client service machine that gets as close to perfect client service as possible, every single time?

Your Firm’s Major Workflows

Even though we’re talking about project management, it’s useful to think about workflows as a special kind of project. While a typical project has a definite end point, a workflow is ongoing.

For example, every firm has several workflows that constitute the stages of representing a client:

  1. Client intake
  2. Client onboarding
  3. Matter management
  4. Billing
  5. File closing

These (and other) workflows are the heart of your client service machine. Likewise, your business workflows are the heart of a healthy law firm, among them:

  1. Management
  2. Marketing
  3. Bookkeeping and accounting

Make a list of all your firm’s major workflows. You probably have 10 or fewer.

Your Major Projects

Along with your standing workflows, your firm will have a number of projects. First, every open client matter is a project. In addition, you probably have projects related to your business’s strategic goals.

Here are some examples:

  1. Launch a new firm website by the end of this quarter.
  2. Create a new client welcome package.
  3. Train everyone to use the firm’s practice management software.

Add your firm’s major projects to your list. Besides open client matters, you likely have five or fewer projects related to strategic goals. 

Project Management: State Your Goals for Each Project

Now, next to each workflow, matter and project, write down its goal. For your client onboarding workflow, for example, your goal might simply be to get the client into your practice management system and collect their documents. Or it could be to set expectations and “wow” the new client with a welcome package.

For matters, use your client’s goal for the representation. (If you aren’t sure, get in touch with the client and get on the same page!)

Write down the goal for each project as well, whether it’s a new website, a new workflow or just a document outlining the next steps.

Visualize the Stages of Each Workflow and Matter Type

For most projects, the stages are simple:

  1. Stuff you need to do.
  2. Stuff you are doing.
  3. Stuff that’s done.

For workflows and matter types, you may be able to identify additional stages. You might think about a typical civil litigation matter in something like the following stages, for example:

  1. Send a demand letter.
  2. Draft and file the complaint.
  3. Discovery.
  4. Summary judgment.
  5. ADR.
  6. Trial preparation.
  7. Trial.
  8. Communicate results with the client.
  9. File closing.

Or maybe your litigation strategy suggests different stages. For now, your goal is to visualize the stages of each major workflow and matter type your firm manages. (Related: “Process Mapping: How to Take the Work Out of Your Workflow” by Nehal Madjani.)

Next Time: Managing Each Workflow, Project and Matter

Hopefully, taking the time to write this all down will start to suggest some improvements you could make to your firm. In my next posts, I’ll show you how to organize your workflows, matters and projects by making the stages visible to you and your team.

If you want to work ahead, listen to the podcasts I recorded with John Grant and Jordan Couch.

Categories: Case Management, Lawyer Productivity, Legal Project Management
Originally published January 29, 2019
Last updated August 15, 2020
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Sam Glover Sam Glover

Sam Glover is the founder of, an online place for lawyers to learn how to start, manage and grow a modern law practice, and home to a community of innovative lawyers building the future of law. Sam is a former plaintiffs’ lawyer and ABA Journal Legal Rebels Trailblazer. Follow him @samglover.

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